By: Noah Wright
Last season, we saw a handful of players come to the majors and crush the ball. Many of which we did not expect to be doing so. These breakout players’ 2018 seasons has earned them a starting spot for their teams in 2019. I’ll consider them if they did the following: they were not a rookie in 2018, had at least 300 plate appearances, started at least 20 games, or came in and pitched 50 innings in relief, and finally, were not part of an all star game or received an award in the past.
- Jesus Aguilar MIL:
Jesus Aguilar entered the season being the Brewers 3rd string 1B, and was even rumored to be optioned down to AAA to start the season. He did turn in a strong performance in 2017 mainly as a bench player, but greatly improved upon it in 2018. In 566 plate appearances, Aguilar batted .274/.352/.539 with 35 home runs. He also had the 4th highest wRC+ of all 1B’s in the MLB at 134. Aguilar’s ISO was ranked 2nd among first basemen at .264. Though he’s not known for it that much, Aguilar produced decent 1B numbers with 6 DRS, .8 UZR, and just -.2 dWAR. Next season, I’d project that Aguilar bats .280/.360/.520 with 30 home runs. We’ll see a slight decrease in power, but an increase in OBP, as he did increase his walk rate the past 2 seasons.
- German Marquez COL:
The Rockies’ former top 100 prospect came up big for the team during the 2018 season. Despite pitching in Coors Field, Marquez put up a quality 3.77 ERA, 3.40 FIP, and 1.204 WHIP in 196 innings of work. He also limited walks to just 2.6 per 9 while striking out batters at a 10.6 per 9 rate. His 5.3 WAR season comes off the heels of a 2017 rookie season that saw him post an ERA and FIP above 4. Like any Rockies’ pitcher, they’ll likely do better away from Coors field than in it. Next year, I’m going to estimate that Marquez posts a 3.60 ERA, 3.50 FIP, and 1.190 WHIP in 195 innings. Marquez will also improve upon his control lowering his BB/9 to 2.4, and keep a healthy K rate at 10.1.
- Max Muncy LAD:
To think that before 2018, Muncy had last seen playing time in 2016 is strange speaking of Muncy’s breakout performance in 2018. In 481 plate appearances, Muncy batted an impressive .263/.391/.582 with 35 home runs and a 162 wRC+. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, Muncy would have ranked 5th in wRC+, higher than Alex Bregman. Next season the 1B/3B/2B will be 28 years old. I’d project that he hits around .270/.370/.530 with 32 home runs in a full season of plate appearances.
- Eugenio Suarez CIN:
Suarez had previously shown flashes of greatness in seasons prior, however he truly broke out in 2018. In 2018, Suarez hit .283/.366/.526 with 34 home runs in 606 plate appearances. Suarez also had a healthy 135 wRC+ with a career high .243 ISO. Though he plays in a fairly hitter friendly park, it didn’t really boost his numbers like it does with Nolan Arenado. At home, Suarez hit .273 with a .900 OPS. On the road, Suarez hit .292 with a .884 wRC+. While Suarez isn’t going to win any platinum gloves over at third base, his overall defense isn’t that bad. He had 1 DRS, -.3 UZR, and .3 dWAR. Next season, I see Suarez improving even more. Afterall, his numbers pre ASG break were very very good, almost MVP level. In 2019, I expect Suarez to hit around .295/.360/.540 with 36 home runs in 620-ish plate appearances.
- Jurickson Profar OAK:
Prior to 2018, Profar did not have very high expectations. The former #1 overall prospect had struggled very much when he was given an opportunity, and also was injured a good amount of the time. However last year, Profar showed glimpses of what made him a #1 prospect all those years ago. In 594 PA’s, the infielder batted .254/.335/.453 with 20 home runs, and 10 stolen bases. He also had a 108 wRC+. While Profar struggled defensively at shortstop, he did have positive numbers at second base, the position he will be playing next season in Oakland. However Profar is moving from a very hitter friendly park to a very pitcher friendly park. I do see some regression for Profar in 2019. I project he’ll hit .240/.330/.420 with 18 home runs.
- Kirby Yates SD:
San Diego’s closer Kirby Yates was nothing more than low leverage, middle relief guy before 2018. He had made his debut in 2014 when he was 27, and never really got a chance to pitch until he got to San Diego. Even after he arrived at SD, it’s not like Yates was putting up any eye popping numbers: 3.72 ERA, 3.50 FIP, nothing that shouts “closer”. However, Yates went above and beyond this past season with the Padres. In 63 innings, Yates recorded a miniscule 2.14 ERA, 2.54 FIP, and .926 WHIP. He lowered his BB/9 to just 2.4, while striking batters out at a 12.9 rate. Batters couldn’t hit home runs off of him either, giving up just 6. However, Yates did give up 36% hard contact, so maybe we will see a little regression. Regardless, he probably won’t regress too much. I project he’ll have a 2.70 ERA, 2.90 FIP, a WHIP around 1.000, but keep a similar walk and strikeout rate at 2.5 per 9 (walks), and 11.7 (K’s)
- Blake Treinen OAK:
Like Yates, Treinen would put up solid numbers, but never anything that was out of this world amazing. That was until last season when he took over Oakland’s full time closer role. In 80 and a third innings, Treinen posted a near historic ERA at .78, with a FIP of just 1.82 and WHIP of .843. Treinen also kept walks to a minimum at just 2.4 per 9 and struck batters out at a 11.4 per 9 rate. Treinen gave up an impressive 2 home runs in all 80 and a third innings of work. In such a pitcher friendly environment, there’s almost nothing suggesting Treinen will regress. However it’s almost impossible to improve upon a .78 ERA and 1.82 FIP. I see Treinen pitching 70 innings with a 1.50 ERA, 2.00 FIP, .900 WHIP, while keeping his walks, HRS to a minimum and strike outs to a maximum.